Queenstown: More than Just an Extreme Sports Destination

July 22, 2013 by

Australia & the Pacific, Places to Go, Things to Do, Travel Advice & Inspiration

Queenstown

Queenstown

The flight into Queenstown is your first clue that this place is extreme. In a country that loves all things physically challenging, the rugged mountains surrounding Queenstown make for an exciting airport approach. You feel as though you could reach out and touch the grey crags, hoping that the pilot gets the steering absolutely right. It’s breathtaking in every way.

Queenstown is one of New Zealand’s must-visit places no matter which season you’re visiting the South Island. It’s famous for its snowfields, its dazzling Lake Wakatipu – its autumn leaves and spring blossoms and most of all just for that scenery. Oh, and the extreme sports – so many extreme sports. The town is full of young travellers there to work and play, to ski and bungee jump and luge and hang-glide and, well, you get the idea.

But if you’re like me and prefer to keep your feet firmly on the ground and your thrills more sedate, then there’s still plenty for you to do.

First there are those views. Most accommodation in Queenstown has a view; that’s the beauty of wrapping your town along the hillside edge of a lake. But just to be sure, check that the place you’re staying has big windows. I was there in mid-May and the first snows had fallen on the mountains the night before we arrived.

Across Lake Wakatipu from the town is the beautiful Remarkables mountain range. Spectacular at any time of the year, the Remarkables were particularly wonderful with snow on top. The range is one of New Zealand’s best family skiing areas but for those of us without good snowlegs, it also makes for great landscapes across the lake from pretty well anywhere in Queenstown.

Lake Wakatipu by land and sea

Dazzling Lake Wakatipu

Dazzling Lake Wakatipu

To explore Lake Wakatipu the most relaxing way, take a boat cruise.

You’ve got a couple of choices: the Million Dollar Cruise, or the TSS Earnslaw Vintage Steamship. The first takes you east on the lake and showcases the town of Queenstown and its millionaires’ row of lakeside houses that nestle below the Remarkables. The second is a longer cruise to the western end of the lake on a 100 year old steamship. The Earnslaw also combines some cruises with a visit to Walter Peak High Country Farm, where you can have a farm tour, horse-ride or have a meal.

Cruising Lake Wakatipu

Cruising Lake Wakatipu

We took the Million Dollar Cruise, which is the less expensive of the two, and it was really interesting, though very cold despite the sunny day. Next time I also want to go on the Earnslaw and see less real estate and more landscape. Whichever you choose: Dress Warmly!

Otherwise hire a car. We took a lakeside drive to the northeast end of Lake Wakatipu to a tiny town called Glenorchy. Just a bit further on is the area known as Paradise. And it is beautiful, especially with those autumn leaves. This is the place for feasting your eyes – it’s very popular with walkers and photographers and those, like me, who seek peace and beauty in the great outdoors. For a good walk spoiled, there’s a golf course. Fishing is also popular here as is swimming in summer – though the water is still pretty cool. And if you really need thrills of course there’s jetboating and paragliding available.

Stunning views in Queenstown

Stunning views in Queenstown

Low-key adventures in and around Queenstown

Not far from Queenstown in the other direction is Mount Cook – another drawcard for skiers and other extremists. But along the same road on the hill just above Queenstown is Arthurs Point which has good restaurants and the Onsen indoor/outdoor Hot Pools where you can soak in the warmth while looking at those stunning views – but you definitely need to book ahead for this as it’s small and popular.

Charming Arrowtown. Photo by Robert Nyman via Flickr.

Charming Arrowtown. Photo by Robert Nyman via Flickr.

Further on you’ll find Arrowtown, a real jewel of the region and only about 20 minutes drive from Queenstown. Arrowtown is a historic mining settlement with a wonderfully preserved main street. Looking at it, you’ll estimate half an hour of wandering along but once you start picking your way through the varied shops, you’ll find you’ve spent half a day here. The autumn colors in Arrowtown were incredible and there were a least two weddings taking place there the day we were there – one complete with a horse and carriage. Arrowtown and Queenstown are very popular wedding destinations – you can’t beat that scenery for photos!

The Central Otago Region

Central Otago Vineyard

Central Otago Vineyard

The Central Otago region around Queenstown is known for its wines so heading out for  a leisurely lunch at a winery is a must. We headed to Amisfield – one of the closest to Queenstown – and sat out on the terrace for a delicious meal and good wines. Naturally they are very good at packing bottles of wine for traveling or even sending them home on your behalf. Many other excellent wineries are clustered around the nearby town of Cromwell.

Queenstown activities for the faint of heart

The Skyline Gondola

The Skyline Gondola

Back in Queenstown, I was finally persuaded to do one activity that swept my feet off the ground: the Skyline Gondola. It’s really an essential part of any visit. And even though I’m terrified of heights I enjoyed it. The Skyline Restaurant and Viewing Platform sits high above Queenstown and lures you with the knowledge of how good the views from up there will be. The Gondola ride takes only eight minutes – even I lost my fear as the outlook unfolded.

Queenstown Skyline Restaurant

Queenstown Skyline Restaurant View

From the top, the view is incredible – though I was the one hugging the wall as children ran fearlessly around the outdoor viewing platform. The old style gondola on-show that opens by swinging in half made me grateful for the new style sliding door version we rode up in!

Skyline is a great non-extreme activity for those travelling with extremists – they can head up the next stage of the peak on the chairlift and luge back down, while you have a relaxing meal or coffee looking at the view from safely behind glass.

I haven’t even started on the eating and drinking to be done while visiting Queenstown. Hot chocolate and mulled wine at any of the good restaurants lakeside; excellent pizzas at family-friendly Winnie’s; world-famous eating at Botswana Butchery; great breakfasts and coffee at Vudu Café. And I challenge you to leave Queenstown without buying at least one piece of oh-so-soft and warm merino/possum wool clothing.

Queenstown may be known as a hot-spot for daredevils and extreme adventures, but there’s still plenty on offer for those who prefer to get their thrills on solid ground.

-Philippa Burne

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